Watching you watching me
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/02/2012 (3874 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In her new biweekly column, art historian Alison Gillmor looks beneath the surface of newsworthy art.
WHAT it is: And All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, an interactive video installation by Canadian artists Donna Szoke and Ricarda McDonald now on view at Plug In ICA. Two large video monitors display human eyes that lock onto viewers and track them as they move.
What It Means: To start with, there’s an almost comic effect. It’s hard not to taunt the work a little, just to see how well it responds to your movements. Hard also not to think about the old cliché of the portrait whose eyes follow you around the room.
Gradually, though, the installation reveals itself as an unsettling comment on the ubiquitous nature of contemporary urban surveillance technology. Located just off Portage Avenue on an outer wall of the Plug In store and near a busy doorway into Stella’s cafe, the work reminds us that our public sphere is increasingly being colonized by cameras. These machines promise safety and security, of course, but they also increase intrusion and control. McDonald and Szoke are tapping into deep-rooted anxieties about the double-edged nature of technology.
Why It Matters: The title of the work comes from a 1967 Richard Brautigan poem about “cybernetic ecology” and “mutually programming harmony,” while also connecting to a 2011 BBC series about the uneasy relationship between the mechanical and the biological.
The work’s gaze at first seems human, but the two eyes don’t make a pair — they’re both right eyes — which creates an effect of lingering creepiness. Encountering this cool, blue, digitally driven stare, which is both implacably observant and eerily blank, we are left stranded in the uncanny valley between the human and the digital.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.